The 5 Most Important U.S. GDP Statistics and How to Use Them

The Five GDP Statistics You Need to Know

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Personal consumption drives almost 70 percent of gross domestic product. Photo by MM Productions/Getty Images

Gross domestic product measures a country's economic output. There are five GDP statistics that give you the best snapshot of the health of the United States economy. 

U.S. GDP is the most important economic indicator because it tells you the health of the economy. The U.S. debt to GDP ratio describes whether America produces enough each year to pay off its national debt.  U.S. real GDP corrects for changes in prices.

The GDP growth rate measures how fast the economy is growing. U.S. real GDP per capita describes the standard of living of Americans.

1. U.S. GDP 

U.S. GDP was $19.509 trillion in the third quarter of 2017. What exactly does this mean? The gross domestic product of the United States ran at a rate of $19.509 trillion a year from July through September 2017. This statistic is also known as nominal GDP. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis provides this estimate in the National Income and Product Accounts Interactive Data, Table 1.1.5. Gross Domestic Product.

U.S. GDP is the economic output of the entire country. It includes goods and services produced in the United States, regardless of whether the company is foreign or the person providing the service is a U.S. citizen. To find out the total economic output for all American citizens and companies, regardless of their geographic location, you'd want to look at U.S. gross national product, also known as gross national income.

There are four components of GDP:

  1. Personal Consumption Expenditures - All the goods and services produced for household use. This is almost 70 percent of total GDP.
  2. Business Investment - Goods and services purchased by the private sector.
  3. Government Spending - Includes federal, state and local governments.
  1. Net Exports - The dollar value of total exports minus total imports.

2. Debt to GDP Ratio

The U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio for Q3 2017 is 104 percent. That's the $20.245 trillion U.S. debt as of September 29, 2017, divided by the $19.509 trillion nominal GDP.  Bond investors use it to determine whether a country has enough income each year to pay off its debt. 

This debt level is too high. The World Bank says that debt that's greater than 77 percent is past the "tipping point." That's when holders of the nation's debt worry that it won't be repaid. They demand higher interest rates to compensate for the additional risk. When interest rates climb, economic growth slows. That makes it more difficult for the country to repay its debt. The United States has avoided this fate so far because it is one of the strongest economies in the world. 

If you review the national debt by year , you'll see one other time the debt-to-GDP ratio was this high. That was to fund World War II. Following that, it remained safely below 77 percent until the 2008 financial crisis. The combination of lower taxes and higher government spending pushed the debt-to-GDP ratio to unsafe levels. Even the the economy is growing at a healthy 2-3 percent rate, the government has not reduced the debt.

It keeps spending at unsustainable levels.

3. Real GDP

U.S. real GDP was $17.1697 trillion for Q3 2017. This measure takes nominal GDP and strips out the effects of inflation. That's why it's usually lower than nominal GDP. 

It's the best statistic to compare U.S. output year-over-year. That's why the BEA uses it to calculate the GDP growth rate. It's also used to calculate GDP per capita.  The BEA provides this date in the NIPA charts, Table 1.1.6. Real Gross Domestic Product, Chained Dollars.

4. GDP Growth Rate

The U.S. GDP growth rate was 3.3 percent for Q3 2017. This indicator measures the annualized percent increase in economic output since the last quarter.  It's the best way to assess U.S. economic growth.   If you look at U.S. GDP history, you'll see this is a sustainable rate of growth.

 Current GDP statistics tells you what parts of economy are driving this growth. The outlook for 2017 and beyond is also within this healthy range.

5. GDP per Capita

In 2016, the U.S. real GDP per capita was $57,300. This indicator tells you the economic output by person. It's the best way to compare GDP between countries. For that reason, GDP per capita uses purchasing power parity. This levels the playing field between countries. It compares a basket of similar good, taking out the effects of exchange rates.  The United States ranks 44th compared to other countries.